10 000 - 4 500 BC

The Early Stone Age in Finnmark has traditionally been called the Komsaculture, named after a mountain near Alta where the first Early Stone Age remains were found. However, most archaeologists today are critical towards this concept, since it implies the presence of ONE culture, ONE people, in the whole region of Finnmark. Even though the archaeological research to a large degree has focused on the Late Stone Age, we know that the situation was far more complex also in the earlier times.


30 000 years ago Finnmark was covered by a heavy ice sheet. This sheet was part of the large glacier that covered entire Scandinavia and northern Germany. Around 13 - 14 000 years ago the glacier had retreated from the coast of Finnmark, and at around 11 000 years ago also the inner parts of the fjords were bare. Between 9 000 and 7 000 BC the glacier had disappeared also in the interior parts of Finnmark.
In the period between early melting and complete disappearance of the glacier the landscape was open, and the vegetation was characterised by small bushes, shrubs and grass. Eventually small forests of birch started to form, and from 6 500 BC also pine grew at sheltered places. Between 7 000 and 3 800 BC there was a period of warmer climate. The median temperature was 1,5 - 2 degrees C higher than today. The main part of the interior of Finnmark and the inner parts of the fjords were covered by pine forests. Pine and birch grew side by side in the outer coastal areas.
During the Early Stone Age considerable changes in the landscape took place. When the weight the glacier had on the land disappeared, the land started to rise. However, due to melting of the glaciers, the ocean also markedly rose in the period between 6 400 and 3 800 BC. In some areas the land rose enough to equal the rising of the sea, but along the outer coast, where the land rose more slowly, several settlements were eventually flooded.

From the earlier parts of the prehistory of Finnmark we almost exclusively have found stonetools and remains from the manufacture of stone tools. A few artifacts of bone have been found at the later Early Stone Age site of Gressbakken in the Varangerfjord. The stonetools have been manufactured of many different types of stone, and local types seem to have been preferred. Coarse and fine quartsite are commonly found at sites from Early Stone Age, but also rock crystal, chert and white quartz has been used. Some flint, which is not a naturally occuring type in this area, is also found. Through different chopping- and pressuretechniques the rawmaterial was shaped into tools like arrowheads, spearheads, knifes, scrapers and axes.
Since the interior of Finnmark was covered by ice at the beginning of Early Stone Age, we only know about coastal sites from the earlier ages. The settlements are typically situated in areas where there was good access to the ocean from several sides. Most of the sites are open settlements without any visble structures, and only in a few places teltrings and foundations for shelters are found. These indicate movement of settlement between different sites. When the ice retreated, the interior parts seem to have become more utilized. The earliest visible dwellings appear, they are vague and without clearly marked walls, which indicate the continuance of high mobility. Towards the end of the Early Stone Age the dwellings increase in number, size and visibility, and this is concieved as the result of increased sedentarity. The houses most probably resembled the traditional Saami earthen houses, with walls of turf and a central hearth. Towards the Late Stone Age the utilization of the interior is more profound, and the pattern of settlement seems to have consisted of moving between two or more seasonal settlements, in addition to smaller hunting- and fishingcamps.
At Melkøya
In Sundjaera two phases from the Older Stone Age is documented. One site was situated under a one meter thick layer of stone, which covered a thin layer of prehistoric turf. Under this layer a quarzflake was found. The stone layer represents an old beach formed by storms, which came to cover the original surface of turf. Based on knowledge about changes in sealevel, we presume this formation to have occured around 7 000 years ago. Consequently, the turf and the findings beneath it must be older than this. The other site is situated higher in the landscape, about 22 metres above today's sealevel. The tools found here, and the technology used in the manufacturing of the tools, indicate activities that took place more than 9 000 years ago.





Tromsoe Museum-Universitetsmuseet, N-9037 Tromsoe, Norway
Telephone +47 77 64 50 00 Fax +47 77 64 55 20
Updated by Anja Roth Niemi May 2, 2003
Editor: Stephen Wickler, Dept. of Archaeology, Tromsoe Museum